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Chugach Mountains, ALASKA — These are rough roads for a car most often associated with affluent urban living, but with the introduction of the V70 XC, a vehicle designed distinctly for the American market, the Swedish automaker Volvo Cars is setting out for new and uncharted territory.
For years, Volvo enjoyed a unique and distinct identity. Seen as the leader in automotive safety, it saw sales soar as aging American baby boomers settled down to start families. But in recent years, Volvo’s message became muddled as more and more competitors began to focus on safety. And Volvo missed one of the most dramatic shifts ever to occur in the American market. A decade ago, when Volvo was at its peak, minivans, sport-utility vehicles and other light trucks accounted for little more than a quarter of the American market. Today, that’s approaching 50 percent, and boomers by the millions are trading in their passenger cars for light trucks — vehicles many perceive as being even safer than Volvo’s boxy sedans and wagons.
"In America, wagons have an image as a housewife vehicle," said Helge Alten, president and CEO of Volvo Cars North America, during a long drive through the rugged mountain passes north of Anchorage. "People want SUVs, and Volvo needs to have the right products for North America," the company’s single largest market.
Bridging the car-truck gap
The XC is part of a new class of hybrid car-trucks, though it’s not clear whether it can bridge the yawning chasm between the two classes of vehicles. XC is based on a conventional V70 station wagon, loaded with a range of luxurious options, including leather seats and a CD changer. There’s also a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, improving traction on wet roads and backwoods trails. Alten described this as "the logical extension of our brand leadership in product safety."
Volvo V70 XC 2Enlarge Photo